Friday, April 18, 2014

Vietnam Adventures (Hanoi)

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I have decided to go and spend 5 days in Hanoi for another great adventure. Truly, the trip did wonders, feeding the wanderlust in me and at the same time helped me in realizing more things as I embark on a new journey being 30.

Vietnam is a splendid country with a very unique culture. Their country had drawn me once again, wanting more especially their cuisine. Another thing that draws me back to Vietnam again and again is how affordable everything is. I have spent a total of just $200, excluding airfare, for my 5 day stay in Hanoi. I even had some leftover money and gave tips to almost everyone who serviced us. 

Money, money, money! Millionaire for 5 days! 
Hotel costs us USD25 per night
Halong Bay Day Tour for USD 35
Hoa Lu Tam Coc Day Tour for USD35
Hanoi Street Food Tour for USD20
Airport Transfers for USD32 (two way)

Let me sum up my short but very fulfilling vacation in Hanoi.

Minh Anh Hotel - Our home in Hanoi.

Boutique hotel situated in the heart of the Old Quarter. Splendid customer service, nice spacious rooms, excellent breakfast.

Halong Bay Day Tour - joined a group tour for this and experienced one of the UNESCO Worl Heritage site. The place is breathtaking!

Floating Village in Halong Bay

Hoa Lu and Tam Coc Day Tour - In this tour, we visited the ancient capital of Vietnam and experienced the country side living of the Vietnamese people. Biking, boating, and caving included!

Ancient Capital Of Vietnam in Hoa Lu

Group Shot! Enjoying the outskirts of Vietnam in Tam Coc

Hanoi City Tour - My companion and I tremendously  enjoyed getting lost inside the Old Quarter. Its chaotic and exotic which we both truly loved! We also went to the must see places in Hanoi like the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hoan Kiem Lake, and so much more.

Huc Bridge

Turtle Pagoda

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The chaotic streets of Hanoi

Hanoi Eats - Delectable Vietnamese cuisine never fails to entice my appetite. Found new favorites here and there, and once again tried the sumptuous Pho and Banh My!

Banh My

Bia Hoi! Delish delish!

Ca Phe Trung (Egg Coffee)

Pho Ga (Chicken Noodles)

I totally fell in love with Vietnam. This isn't my first time and I will certainly be back soon. Best thing about the trip is I have gained new friends and our friendships are getting better and better each and every day. :)

Cheers for friendships!!!

My very good friend David who helped me so much in making my trip to Hanoi 100% stress free

My fantastic travel buddy, "bugaw" and dialogue partner. Till our next trip!!!

Read more about my Hanoi trip: 

Minh Ahn Hotel (Hanoi)
Halong Bay  Day Tour
Hoa Lu and Tam Coc Day Tour
Hanoi City Tour 
Hanoi Eats

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hanoi Eats!

As Andrew Zimmern would say in his show, "If it looks good, eat it".  I definitely think that everything I saw in Hanoi looks so good to sample. I honestly thought that my 5 day stay in Hanoi, Vietnam would allow me to taste all the delicious Vietnamese food that I have been hearing and researching about. Unfortunately, I needed either more time to explore and sample their cuisine, or I must find a way to expand my stomach and take in all the food that I wanted to in a short span of time.

I will be sharing here some Vietnamese fares I have indulged in. I loved almost everything I tasted, aside from that one dish that has a very challenging textural component that I kinda find weird.

I fell in love with Vietnamese cuisine when I went to HCMC a few years back and I went back to Vietnam, this time to Hanoi to sample more local dishes. Hanoians would say that there are slight differences in the flavors of their food compared to HCMC. Cuisine in the southern most part of Vietnam tends to be a little sweet and sour while the cuisine up north tends to be a little saltier. I personally have  observed the difference as soon as I got a taste of some Hanoian cuisine.

As most travelers would say, eat where the locals eat. Street foods are ubiquitous in Hanoi. In every turn, you would see a Banh Mi stand or a Pho stall. Small chairs are in every corner of Hanoi especially in the Old Quarter in which you will find different delicacies from noodles to fruit yogurt to home made beers.

My friends and I, enjoying the delicious Egg  Coffee (Ca Phe Trung)
I, now wanted to share some mouthwatering dishes I have tried throughout my stay in Hanoi. These are the must try foods you have to sample when you go there.

1. Banh My

Doner Kebab Banh My! Whatta a great cultural mix!
For some unknown reasons, for me that is, Hanoi have a different spelling of Banh My. I remember visiting HCMC and this is spelled as Banh Mi there. Anyway, it is still equally delicious. This is on the top of my street food recommendation. I recalled eating a whoopping amount of Banh My in my short stay in Hanoi. Delicious chewy bread with tender meat, fresh vegetables and a delectable sauce. Heaven!

Banh My!!!!

2. Ca Phe Trung (Egg Coffee)

Egg Coffee with Sunflower Seeds. Yummy combo!
Ca Phe Trung or Egg coffee is already one of my favorite coffee concoction. I fell in love with Ca Phe Sua Da when I went to HCMC and this, also became an instant favorite. Yes, you read it right, there is egg in this coffee. This concoction is made by whipping fresh raw egg and sweetened fresh milk on top with dripped Vietnamese coffee that sinks into the bottom. Delectably addicting. You can find a lot of places that sells Ca Phe Trung in Hanoi. The most famous is Cafe Giang near Hoan Kiem Lake.

3. Pho

Pho Ga (Chicken Noodles)
Pho, oh glorious Pho. Who can resist the piping hot soup with the freshest ingredients? It has been said that Pho really originated from North Vietnam, particularly in Hanoi. Indeed, you'll see the ubiquity of this noodle dish for there are a lot of Pho stalls all around the Old Quarter with different kinds of Pho in the menu. Choose to your hearts desire, from beef to chicken, even snails can be in you Pho. Go crazy! I particularly love this Pho that we have tried one night. The dish uses only the freshest ingredients and with a very superior quality native chicken which is full of flavor.

Native chicken, snails, noodles and other good stuff to make some goody good Pho

Condiments of fresh lime, chopped chillies, fish sauce, and hot sauce.

I know, you're drooling by just looking at this huh? :P

4. Tra Chanh (Iced Lemon Tea) and Sunflower Seeds

Lemon  iced tea, sunflower seeds and yogurt fruits on a hot day! Superb!

I have read that there is a good Tra Chanh place just in front of St. Joseph's cathedral. I intentionally visited the cathedral on my first day and planned to hang out at this place. I saw a lot of photos that exhibits a good explanation of how Hanoians live and I said to myself that I really wanted to experience that. Thus, after saying a short prayer at the cathedral, my friend and I joined the crowd at once and find a perfect little spot for us to sit and observe Hanoians, of course, to sample the famous drink and snack as well.

Hangin' out just like the Hanoians

We spent a few hours just sitting down on small stools in this cafe, just watching the streets of Hanoi. Of course, we need a  lot of time to finish the bowl of sunflower seeds for peeling it requires a lot of effort, needless to say I totally enjoyed it. Must experience this when in Hanoi.

5. Fresh Fruits with Yogurt

Yummy Fruit Yogurt
My friend liked this very much, and I think a lot of Vietnamese people too! I have been seeing a lot of locals indulge in this wonderful refreshing mix of the freshest fruits, usually consisting of strawberries, kiwis, melon, jackfruit, and lychee, topping it with delicious home made yogurt, served with shaved ice on the side. It is pretty much like our very own Halo-halo but a lot less sweeter than the Filipino counterpart. Best thing about this is, it is super affordable! For merely a dollar, you can get this fantastically refreshing snack.

Another round for midnight snack! 

6. Bun Cha (Skewered BBQ Pork with Noodles)

Bun Cha

Bun Cha, which is grilled pork and ground pork with rice vermicelli noodles is another famous Hanoi dish. They say I should sample Bun Cha from street vendors but unfortunately I didn't have enough time to go roam around some more so I just ordered this dish in Quan An Ngon. This dish is delectable. The soup-ish, condiment made of vinegar, sugar, and fish sauce in which you dip the BBQ into and eat together with the vermicelli noodles is full of flavor.

7. Banh Cuon (Steamed Rice Paper Rolls)

Banh Cuon 
The literal translation of this is "rolled cakes" and I personally can describe it as a savory Vietnamese crepe made out of rice flour batter with ground pork, woodear mushrooms and crispy fried onions on top. I kinda find it a little bland for my taste but the texture of this dish is something I have enjoyed.

8. Bo Nuong (Grilled Beef)

This dish is not exclusive to Vietnam because this is also available in other neighboring Asian countries like Japan's Yakiniku and Korean BBQ.

A plateful of seasoned beef, enoki  mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini, basil, mint, tomatoes and onions

Each order comes with your very own table top grill, butter/margarine, chili salt and lime

This dinner for two of beef and vegetables, rice vermicelli noodles, and
bread only costs around Php 350 or VND 150,000


9. Thit Xien Nuong (Skewered BBQ Pork)

Easy and quick on the go snack found in almost every corner of the Old Quarter. Meat is very tasty and tender. This is Vietnamese fast food. Love it!

10. Vietnamese Empanadas

I don't know what exactly this one is called but it is totally delicious. You cant go wrong with anything fried and this one is definitely divine. With ground pork, rice vermicelli noodles, woodear mushrooms and quail eggs inside, this one is perfect for a quick bite.

11. Rice Dishes

Rice dish with clams and vegetables

Broken rice with grilled pork and vegetables

Fried sticky rice with ground pork and mushroom filling

12. Bia Hoi Match

These three things are always present whenever we drink Bia Hoi. Perfect with a crisp and refreshing lager.

Ban Da - Rice crisps that  goes very well with the tangy spicy dip! 

Nem Chua - Kinda like a Vietnamese sausage. Fermented pork with guava leaf in the middle, 
wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.

Nem Phung - Shredded pig's ear with rice powder. This is eaten after 
wrapping it in a leaf and dipping it to the chili sauce.

13. Noodle Dishes

Pork Knuckle noodle dish with banana heart and all other fresh herbs. 

Vegetarian noodles
I love these noodle dishes. Very filling with a symphony of flavors in each bite. I was totally surprised especially on that first noodle dish with pork knuckles. The freshness of the ingredients contributed to the fantastic overall flavor of the dish. My entire tongue danced for joy. :) 

14. Nom Chan Ga

Chicken feet salad
We actually had no idea what this food is. That afternoon when my companion and I were walking towards the hotel and felt that we need to stop by a place to get something unknown to us to consume. We were just trying to observe what the locals in this particular stall is eating and salivated when we saw what they were enjoying. I asked the lady in this stall about that dish but we unfortunately settled by me pointing out items in the menu and asking them for whatever that is the locals are eating since none of the staff know how to speak in English. Flavor wise, this dish is superb. The mix of savory, sweet and spicy flavors is a feast to the palate. But textural wise, it was a bit challenging for me to take. The meat, which I thought was some sort of like a fish meat or crab meat was actually chicken feet which is gummy and cartilage-y.  This dish is basically a cold salad comprising of shredded cabbage, pickled carrots and radish, fresh herbs like basil and mint, with Nuoc cham which is the Vietnamese dipping sauce that apparently can work as a salad dressing. I personally enjoyed the flavors but not really the texture of the chicken feet. Don't get me wrong since I enjoy eating chicken feet from Chinese restaurants and "adidas" from some local BBQ stalls here in Manila, but this one was left gummy and tough which I didn't really enjoy. Nevertheless the flavors are fresh and that's what I actually relished. 

15. Some more food

Vietnamese drip coffee

Ca Phe Sua Da - my favorite iced dripped coffee with sweetened condensed milk

Different pickled fruits

There are still a lot in my list that haven't been ticked since I was pressed for time. I think I'd be needing a month in Hanoi to sample everything in my list. Till next time, Vietnam! Bless you and your food! :)

Read more about my Hanoi trip: